Treasurer stays firm on salary row

THE Sangguniang Panlungsod conducted a legislative inquiry Tuesday to resolve the delayed salaries of excess job hires. (Emme Rose Santiagudo)

By: Emme Rose Santiagudo

THE treasurer of Iloilo City will not budge on his stand to deny “excess” job hires of their salaries for fear of misspending public funds.

City Treasurer Jinny Hermano again expressed his stance during the legislative inquiry conducted by the Sangguniang Panlungsod on Tuesday into the delayed salaries of excess job hire employees of the Iloilo City government.

Hermano has refused to sign the payrolls of excess job hires because of limited appropriations under the reenacted 2018 budget. His refusal also led to a standoff between him and the executive branch headed by Mayor Jose Espinosa III and the City Legal Office (CLO).

Councilor Plaridel Nava, committee on appropriations chair, led the hearing attended by Hermano, City Accountant Michelle Lopez, City Budget Officer Ninda Atinado, Atty. Mary Joan Montaño-Pallada of the Internal Audit Service (IAS) Office, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)-Iloilo City head Atty. Ferdinand Panes and CLO chief Roledo Dela Cruz.

Atinado said the city government can pay the salaries for 3,687 job hires who are specifically identified and assigned to various offices. 

Atinado reported that there are 189 excess job hires in January and 199 more in February.

“The total estimated value (salaries) for them is P784,000 for January and P1,057,000 for February,” she said.

During the hearing, Hermano maintained his stand because of the principle that each office must keep to their allocated number of job hires under the reenacted budget.

“Every program of work and activities has predetermined number of casuals prepared by Local Finance Committee, going beyond that wala siya appropriations,” he said.

But Pallada said the City Hall has P388 million available cash for its operations.

“For the month of January and February, the City Treasurer’s Office we’re able to collect P725 million. Minus the expenses, now we have P388 million fund available for operations,” Pallada reported.

Hermano also ignored opinions from the CLO and DILG that he can write his objections to any policy or orders but he still has to discharge his functions like signing the payrolls.

He said he will be left holding the bag if he continues paying the excess job hires.

“It is only an instrument to get away from liability. Kun pabay-an assuming 6 months, I’ll be the one standing here looking for a fund nga indi makita. If I double the amount for the excess job hires, the budget will be exhausted in six months,” he said.

Two opinions signed by CLO Dela Cruz cited Section 342 of Republic Act 7160 (Local Government Code). 

The section states that “unless he registers his objection in writing, the local treasurer, accountant, budget officer, or other accountable officer shall not be relieved of liability for illegal or improper use or application or deposit of government funds or property by reason of his having acted upon the direction of a superior officer, elective or appointive, or upon participation of other department heads or officers of equivalent rank.”

Heramano also emphasized the need to strictly follow the monthly allocation program for job hires in each office for lack of appropriations.

Atinado and Lopez backed the treasurer saying that payment of excess job hires outside the appropriations is not proper.

“We are looking at the tip of the iceberg here. We need to follow strictly the monthly allocation program because ang issue is the absence of appropriations. Ano matabo in six months, paano kun maubusan kita,” he said. 

The three finance officers shared the same principle despite the stand of the CLO that the number of job hires should not be fixed.

“Job hires are never fixed. Job hires are basically engaged because of a certain need they should not be permanent. It is a wrong notion that per month amo na ang number of job hires lang. We engage job hires because of a necessity, and the necessity can change depending on each month,” Dela Cruz said.

Nava said he would give Hermano a chance to take a deeper and closer look into the delayed payrolls.

He emphasized that the city has enough budget for job hires who have rendered services to the city government.

“This is just a minimal amount. To be honest, expect ko ya thousands ang excess and millions ang involved but this is just a small amount compared to the P388 million which is available. We are talking of those people who have rendered services to the city government, they are entitled to just compensation. I don’t think, the city gov’t will be affected,” Nava said.

Nava also assured that he will reach out to Mayor Jose Espinosa III for a compromise agreement, particularly on the participation of the finance committee in the hiring and payment of job orders.

“Open man si Hermano sa compromise agreement. Istoryahon ko ang executive branch. Ang ila man lang pila ka casuals i-hire kag ang mga finance committee nga makapirma sila on the job orders,” he said. 

Nava said he wants to solve the issue whether the city is facing a reenacted budget or not since the mayor only partially vetoed the matter of expenditures on the 2019 annual budget and not the figures.

“Kay kun mapamatud-an naton nga ang veto is on the matter of expenditures and not on the figures, wala sang reenacted budget and we can propose a supplemental budget basta maswelduhan lang aton job hires,” he noted.

On Dec 27, 2018, Espinosa signed the P2.318-billion annual budget for 2019 but with partial vetoes, particularly the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) allocation of the City Mayor’s Office.

In his veto message, the mayor explained that aside from being ultra vires or beyond the legal authority and is not allowed by law, some of the items like the new mechanism of splitting the budget into two tranches were deemed prejudicial to public welfare.

“The provisions dividing the disbursement into two would not only affect but greatly prejudice the operation and functioning of different offices. It would not only cripple but will also slow down the performance and efficiency of every offices concerned as they will be limited in cases of emergency, contingency, lack of supplies, lack of personnel, and inadequate equipment,” Espinosa stressed.